Newsprint in Pakistan: Independent but Underutilized



Among media sources, print publications have enjoyed the greatest level of freedom since the establishment of Pakistan as an independent state in 1947. While electronic broadcasting was subject to monopolistic state control for long periods, print largely avoided this fate. To be sure, some journalists practice self-censorship and some suffer intimidation, but a wide range of privately owned daily and weekly newspapers and magazines provide diverse and critical coverage of national affairs.

The State of the Print Industry

Pakistan has a large and diverse newspaper industry, ranging from large Urdu papers to local vernacular publications. The industry publishes in 11 languages, with Urdu and Sindh the predominant language groups.

Over the past decade, the number of papers in publication has actually shrunk. In 1997 the number of daily, monthly and smaller publication was over 4000, but by 2003 that number had shrunk to only 945. Despite the lower number of newspapers circulation has reportedly increased to around 4 million on a daily basis. [1]

A recent report by Denmark-based International Media Support described Pakistan’s newspaper industry as one in which language also defines coverage. IMS said Urdu newspapers are by far the most read and influential among the general public,” particularly prevalent in rural areas, and tend toward coverage which is “conservative, folkloristic, religious and sensational.” The English-language newspapers are described as urban and elitist as well as more liberal and more professionally-oriented. The report claims that English print media has more influence on opinion makers, politicians, and the business community.

Three media groups dominant the newsprint market: Jang Group of Newspapers, Dawn Group of Newspapers and Nawa-Waqt. Each media groups has invested in both English and local-language newspapers, and each group is seen to have its own political slant. The Jang Group is Pakistan’s largest media group; it publishes the Urdu-language Daily Jang and is considered to have a moderately conservative perspective. The Dawn Group, home of Pakistan’s first newspaper, is the second largest media group and publishes the Dawn newspaper, which is considered to have a secular liberal paper. Nawa-Waqt publishes the Urdu daily Nawa-i-Waqt, along with the English-language The Nation. Both are considered to have a right-wing conservative slant. [2]

There are a number of other players in the newsprint industry which focus on improving the quality of journalism rather than generating profits. A few of these organizations include the Pakistan Press Foundation (PFF), the Rural Media Network of Pakistan (RMNP), the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists. For a short description of some of the different training activities offered to print journalists see the Media Development and Environment section of the Country Overview.

Even though the newspaper and magazine industry has been known for its relative freedom in Pakistan, the industry’s journalists have been the subject of censorship and intimidation, much like their colleagues in the electronic broadcast industry. Many journalists have suffered physical attacks, verbal intimidation and arbitrary arrest. Journalists have also been limited in recent years in their ability to report on contentious military operations in the Federal Administrated Tribal Agencies, otherwise known at FATA, and NWFP.

There are a number of government ordinances (particularly, the Ethical Code of Practice contained in the Schedule to the Press Council of Pakistan Ordinance) that the Pakistani government has used to threaten or even ban publications. [3] For more on Pakistan’s media environment, see Media Development and Environment section of the Country Overview.

Chart 1

The newspaper and magazine industry must contend with Pakistan’s consistently low levels of literacy and high levels of poverty. The United Nations Development Program estimates that only about 54 percent of adult Pakistanis (age 15-plus) qualify as literate; around 60 percent of Pakistanis live on under $2 a day, despite notable recent gains in combating poverty.

Print circulation presents its own challenges. In so-called hard-to-reach provinces such as Baluchistan and the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), readership is low, especially in rural areas. Even in provinces with greater media exposure such as the Sind province, newspaper readership is still considerably lower in rural areas (Chart 2).

Chart 2

The impact of low literacy and education on the print sector stand out in the 2008 BBC survey: only 24 percent of individuals with some primary education (not more than Grade 9 education) said they have read a newspaper in the past week (Chart 3). This percentage is nearly double among those who have completed some secondary coursework.

Students in Pakistan, particularly girls, have struggled at making the jump from primary to secondary school. Only 32.5 percent of eligible children (net percentage) in Pakistan have enrolled in secondary school, compared to the 66.1 percent of eligible children who are enrolled in primary school. A poor ratio of girls to boys in secondary enrollment (76:100) not only hinders girls’ potential as newspaper readers but also their lifelong earning potential.

Chart 3

The education disparity between girls and boys is reflected in our survey findings (Chart 4). Even in Sind province, where newspaper readership is highest in the country, readership among men (56 percent) is more than three times that of women (13 percent).

Chart 4

Newsprint Versus Broadcast Mediums

Chart 5

Television has proven to be the dominant news and entertainment medium in most of Pakistan, while newsprint and radio are battling it out for second in much of the country (compare Charts 4 and 5). The importance of each medium varies from province to province; key factors include the amount of circulation and income variation. Beyond the overall urban-rural divide in newspaper readership, Charts 4 and 5 also indicate that in rural areas radio is generally more highly consumed than newspapers, while in urban areas, newspaper consumption surpasses or rivals that of radio.

Chart 6

[1] “Between radicalization and democratization in an unfolding conflict: Media in Pakistan”. International Media Support. July 2009.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “2009 Map of Press Freedom”. Freedom House. Washington, D.C. Accessed April 2010. And “TV reporter gunned down in broad daylight in Khairpur”. Reporters Sans Frontieres. 23 February 2010. Paris, France.,36515.html+reporters+sans+frontieres+pakistan&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

[4] “UNDP Human Development Report 2009”. United Nations Development Programme. Accessed April 2010.

[5] School enrollment, secondary (% net)”. World Bank. Accessed April 2010.

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